Category Life here vs. there

Herman Buhl / a discussion with Joe Simpson


Discussion of the life of Herman Buhl. An inspired life — talks about his dash up Nanga Parbat where he basically dumped the team and team leader and bolted to the peak. Took a while to find the image of where Buhl disappeeared off the edge Chogolisa’s broad (bride) peak. Amazed that no one has put this on to wikipedia yet.

Resolution, from Thomas the tank engine to the Wii

Thomas that tank engine

I was thinking about how the resolution of an experience changes the experience.    Thoughts began while playing with my children.   My son loves to play with trains, small Thomas trains, small tracks you piece together and trains you push around.   For Christmas my brother asked me what my son would like and I thought that a battery powered train (see right picture) would be a hit.    It was but it also changed the way my children play with the trains.   With the battery powered train the focus became setting up the tracks in some form of circular shape and then watch them go round and round.    Play with the push trains had been much more imaginative, it was about setting up the tracks, creating narratives and pushing the trains around, speaking the narratives out loud.   Thomas the electric tank engine stopped most of that.    It was now about just watching him (the train that is) chug round and round the track, usually pulling cars, sometimes on his own.   Less creative, less social, less physical, and shorter time wise.   I was thinking how does the resolution of media and experience effect the experience of the media and play associated with it.   

It seems that like with comics if media or the experience isnt too polished, too finished, it leaves plenty of room for the human mind to fill in the gaps and engage in the experience vs. observe the experience.   This reminded me of a great interview with Brian Eno where he talked about the importance of leaving media and cultural products open and "unfinshed" (from 1995, I found the orgnial and posted it to DB).  But it also seems like engaging kinesthetically with the play transforms it — as my wife said when i asked her why the play was different with the trains you have to push she said because they "have to be the motion" not observe it.        

The Wii, is unfinished, resolution is low, characters (in sports for example) are comic like and the physical engagement in the experience manages to trick the human mind, at least mine, that the experience is pretty much "real".   Its amazing what a little bit of sound and a slight vibration in the remote does — its sophisticated enough to telling my brain that the experienceis so close to tennis or boxing that its real.  Its interesting to think about how these somewhat rough, unfinished experiences are open enough to let one become fully immersed.    Like WOW vs. Second Life.   The environment is unfinished and pretty rough — but the experience is one of total immersion.    And medieval narratives are such a dominant underpinning in our culture that the moment you engage in WOW you have a narrative to engage with.   Second Life seems more polished, and it doesn't have a narrative overlay, much of it is about events and engaging people in living a "second life".      Now its time to get back to my weekend and leave this post, well — unfinished.


It has now been two weeks now since we came back to the US and I am still adjusting. There are many differences but getting away for a while also lets you see things you dont usually see when you get back. For one everything is so large here. Food is an easy place to start — I am not talking about jumbo drinks in movie theaters or fast food — its everywhere, meals here, food here seems larger than life. From muffins to croissants, to venti's to basic portions served at restaurants. It seems that portions of pretty much everything have grown substantially in the past 20 years. I didnt appreciate this before coming back here, I didnt see it, or the movie.

Another observation is in reference to the landscape, the architectural landscape. There is a temporariness to so much of the architecture and the buildings here on the east coast of the US. This isnt only in Manhattan — all over the east coast. It gives one the impression that everything can be changed, it makes the landscape seem more dynamic and in flux. In Italy so much of the landscape feels permanent — yes, there are stretches in Italy where urban or suburban sprawl looks and feels no different to the US but so much of it is old, so very old and the oldness of it, the fact that people have worked, touched, walked and groomed it for hundreds if not thousands of years is evident even in the smallest of things.

Rocks, dripped

An example. Back in Italy there was a drain that ran down the side of our house. Someone a long time a go, likely a long long time ago, had placed a handful of stones underneath where the drain ran off into the soil. A handful of rocks placed under a persistent drip to stop a whole from forming in the ground. These stones looked like they had been literally melted by the drip, drip of the drain. There were countless examples like this, little instances of man's interaction with the landscape marking time. At some level I wonder whether this relationship to time cuts both ways — yes its something that grounds one in a space and gives a space depth of experience, but I suspect its also a reason why change happens so fitfully in Europe. Back here in the US the newness of everything is a testament to constant change. So much is dispensable, and temporary giving the individual a clear sense of how he / she can effect space and change and effect the world.

Packing up and heading home

Time to go home

Heading home, with yellow dog


My one and half year old son calls a phone a “Hi”. When you answer the phone in the US you usually say Hi or Hello. Here in Italy you say “pronto” or “ready”. I remember when I was young hearing a story that in France there were people who thought you had to say “allo, allo” when you answered the phone to make it work.


At around 5.30am a duck flew into our bedroom window. I got up and there was a crow perched on the side of the balcony watching the duck jump up and down smacking itself into our window. Every so often the crow would screech, as if he was yelling take a look at what this duck is doing.

History, Mussolini

We were driving up in the hills near a small town called Mezzegra yesterday. Outside of a villa there was this small cross with Mussolini's name it. Someone had placed flowers by it. As the photo's of Mussolini on wine bottles suggest he is far from demonized. A wikipedia search turns up that this is where Mussolini and his girlfriend were executed before he was taken to Milan.

Note, he was caught in Dongo on his was to Chiavenna where he was trying to board a plane to Switzerland. Weird, this is so close to Switzerland, he could have driven or walked from Dongo or Mezzegra.

Local, how local can you be?

Living here in Italy has made me consider what defines the boundaries of local and how my concept of local is changing.     Here everything is very local – local to a degree I hadnt appreciated to date.  By local I mean within the region we live in Italy (Lombardy) and more often than not the 20 sq. km around us.   People here think local, produce is local, relationships are local.   Many of the people who live in the tiny village we are in have never left Lombardy.  Very few have ever left Italy.  Most people dont speak a word of any language other than Italian.   Considering that we are 15 mins away from the Swiss border, 45 mins from Milan, 3 hours from Florence, this surprised me.    
People seem to relish how local life is here.   Last week someone was explaining to me that much of the milk that we buy here is from cows about 15 mins up the road.   Some friends told us that each year they pick olives from their olive trees and take the olives to Lenno where a local producer of olive oil (great oil btw) weighs them and gives them bottles of oil in exchange for the olives.   There is a trade off made between choice and quality.    There is often little choice, each item comes in a flavor determined mostly by what was available.  What is fresh.   But while daily choice is limited there is more variety.  

There are vegetalbles that we have never seen before.   One day back in Feburary my wife bought at the market a green vegetable that was somewhere between asperagus and an artichoke. Often we cant even get the name sorted for some of these items — different people seem to call them different things — the name for this one was erbetta, another one is called la barba dei priest  (the priests beard).   In the US there seems to be a need to replicate experiences, a need for consistency (are these needs or are they artifacts of a culture of consumption that makes us think they are needs?). Here there is little need for this.    Life maps pretty tightly to the seasons, one month its brocoli the next its appargus and thats about it.  It strikes me that is a lot more texture to a life lived like this.  

Down the street there is a butcher who sells among other things butter. His butter unlike anything I have tasted before. I cant really explain it.   The combination of the texture and the taste is unbelievable – its butter like nothing i have tasted.   Made just up the road.   Maybe I dont pay enough attention to taste — I never thought there could be so much diversity in a thing like butter.  I thought butter was butter, now I differently, so do my kids, they will ask us, butcher's butter please.

 Brands here are hyper local.     Go to a resturant and order sparkling water — what you get wont be Pelligrino,  there is barely a Pelligrino bottle to be seen around here.   Its local carbonated, spring water. And pretty much every restaurant we go to has a different brand.   Go the the supermarket (let alone the local aliementaire) and pretty much everything is local.  Not only produce, the basics — kitchen paper, trash bags, wine, drinks, yoguts etc. etc. most of them are Italian brands.   Glad bags, no can do,  wrigleys gum, no such luck (try Happydent, fabulous branding.) …  Maybe Italy is too small a market, non english spearking etc. for the multinationals to have paid it much atttention.   Most of the trade barriers have been levelled with EU membership.   But local is what people want, its what they trust. People spend a lot of time in their communities and so much is done just the way it has always been done.  

If you expand the concept of local to include a local online community I wonder if this is more what markets will look like in the future.   Another way of thinking about the tail vs. the head, but the tail vs. the head analysis is about how the tail is becoming more accessible from a cost standpoint.  Here the trade off's that are so compelling re: scale and efficiencies have not been made.


The water in our town of approx. 150 people went off today. We inquired as to when it was going to get turned on again … we were told was “when they are done working on it”…